Q&A: Is Dublin losing its cultural soul in the rush to build hotels?

So why is Dublin about to start building more hotels than you would find on a Monopoly board?

With the end of Covid-19 in sight, investors seem confident the city’s tourism industry can recover quickly.

Last week, estate agents Savills Ireland revealed that as many as 24 new 4,500-room hotels will be developed here by the end of 2023.

Not everyone sees this as good news, however – with a protest movement called No More Hotels complaining that Dublin has become a playground for foreign visitors while failing to provide affordable accommodation, neglecting communities. local and losing its cultural soul.

“To be honest, I don’t like the arrival of additional hotels,” said former Lord Mayor Hazel Chu. “For the past 18 months, Dublin has been a donut with a hole in its center. The last thing we want to do is go back to what it was before – it wasn’t working.

Is there really enough demand for all this new tourist accommodation?

There are good reasons to think so. In the last pre-Covid year of 2019, the average hotel occupancy rate in Dublin was 82 pc.

It is the third highest of all European capitals, behind London and Amsterdam.

“There is some catching up with construction shutdown last year,” says Tom Barrett, director of hotels and recreation at Savills Ireland.

“Hotels bring employment and regeneration to the city, and we can now see that Dublin is… not as attractive without tourists.

“Tourists bring energy to the city, so we have to meet that demand when international travel comes back. “

What effect has Covid-19 had on Dublin hotels?

Catastrophic. With holidaymakers, sports competitions and music events virtually non-existent, many hotels have had to temporarily close their doors.

The room occupancy rate collapsed to 31 percent in 2020, and for the first six months of this year, it was even lower at 20 percent.

While most of the hotels along the Wild Atlantic Way are picking up again, Dublin is lagging behind. This is because Dubliners in general are happy to take vacations to other parts of Ireland, but the reverse is not true.

As the President of the Irish Hotel Federation, Elaina Fitzgerald Kane, has pointed out, 83% of the clients of their Dublin properties come from abroad – which leaves “a great void to be filled”.

But despite the current gloom, the long-term future of Dublin hotels looks healthy?

Yes. According to a report by global real estate group CBRE last April, Dublin may receive fewer visits from business travelers after Covid, as the pandemic has shown businesses what can be done with Zoom.

However, CBRE believes this will be more than offset by the “bigger footprint” of international companies here.

In particular, he expects our top ten tech employers to “more than double” their presence in Dublin over the next two years.

The upshot is that by 2024 Dublin is set to return to the good old days of 2019, when a record 6.6 million visitors spent 2.1 billion euros (or roughly 1,500 euros for every man, woman and child).

So where exactly is the backlash against hotels coming from?

It really became visible in 2019 when the Bernard Shaw pub on Richmond Street closed.

It had been a popular hangout for DJs, graffiti artists, and other hipsters, but couldn’t secure a new lease and has since moved to Drumcondra.

“Dublin is changing, we can all see it and feel it,” said the pub’s parent company, Bodytonic.

“There are so many young, creative, smart and smart people in Dublin right now… but they need spaces to meet, make plans and make them happen! “

Meanwhile, a mural was painted on Bernard Shaw’s site with an explicit slogan: “No More Hotels”.

It became the title of a new popular campaign, launched by political activist Andrea Horan.

“Dublin was becoming a monoculture of facilities for tourists to spend their money on,” she explained, “with nowhere the city’s inhabitants can let themselves go”.

So the hotel boom is not seen as bad per se – just a symptom of a much bigger problem?

Exactly. The real scarecrow of opponents is the housing crisis in Dublin, which has pushed average rents up to € 1,745 per month and forced many writers, actors and musicians to leave.

“If James Joyce and Samuel Beckett were here now,” said Limerick comedian and podcaster Blindboy Boatclub, “they would be billed out of their homes by an Airbnb. “

To take just one recent example of business taking precedence over culture, last April An Bord Pleanála approved plans to transform the house where Joyce The Dead’s famous short story was set up into a 54-room hostel. beds.

This has outraged other Irish writers, including Colm Toibin, Edna O’Brien and Sally Rooney, who say it will “destroy a vital part of Irish heritage”.

What is the position of Dublin City Council (DCC) on all of this?

This is not the first time that there has been tension between those in charge of the board and the people we elect.

Two years ago, councilors passed a motion calling for limiting the number of hotels under construction, saying they were “deeply concerned about the increasing erosion of cultural life and space in the city of Dublin”.

However, the board leadership rejected the proposal on the grounds that it would leave them open to legal action. In fairness to DCC, he doesn’t just blindly wave through anything with a reception desk.

Permission for a nine-story hotel on Capel Street was denied last February because council planners believed the area already had “a saturation” of similar establishments.

Finally, where is the debate on the post-Covid future of Dublin heading?

Two upcoming documents should tell us a lot. One is the government’s long-awaited universal housing plan, originally slated for last week but now postponed until late August or early September.

Shortly thereafter, DCC is expected to unveil its 2022-2028 development plan – which will be scrutinized for what it says on finding a balance between tourism and citizens’ rights.

The explosion of Dublin hotels means that our guests will soon be spoiled for choice when it comes to where to rest at night. Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said of people who actually want to live here.

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